tomlin-ben.png
USATSI

The Pittsburgh Steelers will face mostly uncharted waters when they face the Kansas City Chiefs in Sunday night's AFC wild-card game. Sunday night will mark just the fourth time that the Steelers are a double-digit underdog in the playoffs and the first time under head coach Mike Tomlin. The Steelers opened the week as 12.5-point underdogs against the Chiefs, who recorded a 36-10 win over Pittsburgh back in Week 16. 

Pittsburgh is 0-3 as a double-digit underdog in the postseason. Though the Steelers didn't win, in two of those games they were able to cover the spread and were close to pulling off an upset. Here's a look at the Steelers' three previous playoff games as double-digit underdogs. 

1984 AFC Championship Game

A 10-point underdog, the Steelers -- a 9-7 outfit in the regular season -- were coming off of a dramatic upset win over John Elway's Broncos in the divisional round. But they were unable to slow down Dan Marino, the league's MVP that season who was looking to make the Steelers pay after his hometown team passed on him in the previous year's draft. In what is still the highest-scoring AFC Championship Game, Marino threw for 421 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Dolphins to their second Super Bowl appearance in three years. John Stallworth tallied 111 receiving yards and two touchdowns in the final playoff game of his Hall of Fame career. 

1989 AFC divisional round 

  • Broncos 24, Steelers 23 

Perhaps the Steelers' most unlikely playoff team until the current edition, the '89 Steelers made the playoffs at 9-7 despite losing their first two games by a combined score of 92-10. The Steelers stunned division rival Houston in overtime in the wild-card round to earn a ticket to Denver. A 10-point underdog, Pittsburgh took an early 17-7 lead on Louis Lipps' 9-yard touchdown pass from Bubby Brister. Denver tied the score in the third quarter after capitalizing on the game's first turnover, a fumble by running back Tim Worley. Down 24-23 with 2:20 left, Pittsburgh's comeback bid was thwarted by a dropped pass and a fumble on its final offensive possession. 

The Steelers lost despite receiving a career performance by running back Merril Hoge, who ran for 120 yards and a touchdown along with catching eight passes for 60 yards. It was the final playoff game for Hall of Fame coach Chuck Noll. 

Super Bowl XXX

A 13.5-point underdog, the Steelers trailed 13-0 early before cutting their deficit to six points before halftime on Neil O'Donnell's touchdown pass to Yancey Thigpen. Down 20-10 with 11 minutes remaining, Bill Cowher called for what was at the time the earliest-attempted onside kick in Super Bowl history. Deon Figures recovered Norm Johnson's onside kick, and the Steelers made it a 20-17 game following Bam Morris' touchdown run. 

Pittsburgh was on the verge of an historic upset before O'Donnell threw his second interception of the half to Larry Brown, the eventual game MVP, after the Steelers' defense had forced a punt following Morris' touchdown run. The interception set up the Cowboys' game-clinching score while preserving Dallas' third Super Bowl win in four years. The Steelers lost despite out-gaining the Cowboys 310-254 and holding Emmitt Smith to just 49 yards on 18 carries. 


Turnovers was a common theme in Pittsburgh's three previous playoff losses as a double-digit underdog, and it will likely play a factor in who wins on Sunday night. After turning the ball over three times in Kansas City in Week 16, the Steelers committed just two turnovers in their last two games while forcing five turnovers on defense. Pittsburgh will not only have to take care of the ball on offense, it will probably have to come up with a turnover or two against a Chiefs offense that has committed just three turnovers over the past six games.